“Southern food sticks to your ribs,” said Karen Thomas-Johnson, who prefers to go by Warren, as we sit in her diner-style, southern-themed restaurant. She is part owner of The Soul Kitchen, an establishment that recently opened its second, larger location in Lakewood.
The business began in June of 2012 in honor of Warren’s late husband Kirk. Warren’s son Johnathan Berry Junior (Jay) is the other owner and pioneered the opening – partly because of his previous interest in starting a restaurant.
The Soul Kitchen got its name because the family believes it describes the way in which the meals are prepared.
“The food is Southern and prepared with love,” Warren said. The menu remains the same at both locations, however, the space in Lakewood is catered to fit approximately 72 people — a significant increase from the maximum occupancy of 48 at the Colfax location. Modifications include a bar and two televisions to provide further entertainment for guests.
Warren and Jay strictly manage the business and structure of The Soul Kitchen and have been able to afford a small, essential number of employees due to the steady income that comes from its growing customer base.
“We’ve been blessed, somehow the business ended up taking care of itself,” said Warren. However, Jay plans to leave his current supervising position at Graebel Trucking Company and immerse himself in the future of The Soul Kitchen – a move that compliments the opening of the diner’s new location in Lakewood. Warren enjoys her current profession working as a director of client services at Shared Touch, a healthcare agency that provides caregiving services. “I like to help people, I’ve been medically inclined since I was young,” she said. She plans to keep her day job whilst continuing to help her son manage both locations.
The Soul Kitchen sits at the corner of a strip mall in Lakewood. The words “The Soul Kitchen” are written in a plump, cursive, white font over a rectangular white plaque. This hangs on the peach stone wall above large sheets of reflective glass doors that function as the entrance. The restaurant is spacious and long and natural light dances across the checkered porcelain floor, also illuminating the chestnut tables that sit in parallel lines. At the front of the space is a counter and guests can place their order here. To the left of the counter is a medium sized bar whose wooden back wall displays several bottles of liquor. There are two television screens above this that hang side by side almost grazing the ceiling. All of the walls in The Soul Kitchen are wooden and contrast with the splash of red and black paint that tactfully disrupt each vast, glossy, plaque. The chairs are black, thin and cushioned.
The Soul Kitchen serves strictly traditional food and has recipes that reflect Warren’s and Kirk’s roots.
“Jay has Louisiana roots on his [Kirk’s] side and Alabama roots on my side,” Warren confirmed.
Unlike food from the rest of the south, Warren says dishes from Louisiana and Alabama are little spicier which she believes makes them more comforting. “Literally people can sit here and eat one of our meals and go take a nap.”
The most popular items are fried chicken ($6.50), catfish (8.50) and collard greens with turkey (generally comes as a side so prices vary). The menu boasts gluten-free products and vegetable plates along with baked savory dishes such as meatloaf (6.50). The fried chicken is crispy and steams into your mouth as you bite into the tender white meat. The collard greens are incredibly fresh and not overdone, which is always refreshing. They come with delicate pieces of soft turkey that are sprinkled into each serving. Guests do have the opportunity to create their own feast — choosing from the long list of sides and individual items to use.
“You walk in the door and make your own meal,” said Karen.
Weekend specials include shrimp etouffee ($8.25) and southern style okra (prices vary), with beef, sausage, shrimp and tomato. There is also the seafood gumbo ($8.50 – $10) served every day. A southern style onion seafood gumbo with sausage, chicken, shrimp, tomatoes and okra. All meals come with a free white oven-baked dinner roll.
The menu serves only lunch and dinner, however, there are several desserts that interchange each week. Among these the peach cobbler pie, ($4.07) banana pudding, ($4.07) strawberry surprise ($4.07) and luscious lemon ($4.07) cakes are some of the favorites. Warren refused to disclose any information on her recipes stating, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” Kool-Aid of course, is a staple at the restaurant.
The Soul Kitchen is open Monday through Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Colfax location (14017 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora) and Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Friday through Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. at the Lakewood location (98 Wadsworth Blvd., Lakewood).
All photography by Danielle Webster.